The Justice Department on Monday brought a legal challenge to Alabama's tough new immigration law, opening up a new front in the battle between states and the Obama administration over immigration enforcement.
The Alabama law goes even further than a similar law in Arizona, which sparked an earlier lawsuit from the government that is now working its way through the courts.
"Alabama's law is designed to affect virtually every aspect of an unauthorized immigrant's daily life, from employment to housing to transportation to entering into and enforcing contracts to going to school," the Justice Department said in filing the lawsuit.
The department says Alabama's law violates the Constitution by seeking to take over immigration enforcement, which the government claims is a federal domain.
The Alabama law makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally. It goes further than Arizona's law in expanding opportunities for police to put immigrants in jail.
On Monday, state officials said the new law will not prevent any child — including illegal immigrants — from enrolling in Alabama's public schools. Even so, all schools are required to keep records on the number of children of undocumented workers in school, and civil rights groups have said these requirements are so intimidating that many parents may simply decline to send their children.
The state law also makes it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to try to find work or attempt to interact with state or local government. It forbids landlords from renting to anyone who is in the United States illegally and bans state courts from honoring contracts to which illegal immigrants are a party.
The Justice Department is also considering whether to sue Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah over their tough new immigration laws. "To the extent that we find these laws interfere with the federal government's enforcement of immigration law, we will take the appropriate legal action," said Assistant Attorney General Tony West, who is in charge of the department's civil division.
Enforcement of the laws in Georgia, Indiana, and Utah have been blocked by preliminary court decisions. South Carolina's law doesn't go into effect until next year.